Mona Schwartz passed on Jan 2, 2014. She was 78 and had spent the last 30 years of her life in Derha Dun, India where she was known as “Mona Organic Schwartz”, a local hero. She was one of those people who was truly larger than life.
Mona was my first true counseling client. She wandered into Essene in the mid-‘70s looking for me in the hopes that I could help her recover her health through macrobiotic practice. We had a mutual friend who referred her. Mona, among other illnesses, had idiopathic edema (a.k.a. swelling from an unknown origin) a debilitating health concern that doctors were unable to help. Her body would swell to amazing proportions. At the time, I did not know that it was the beginning of a long and fruitful relationship. I would help her regain her health and she would become my very dear friend, advisor, and mentor.
Mona and me in the ’70s.
I was not an experienced counselor at that time and I knew this would be my first real challenge and a valuable lesson as well. When she was standing there before me I had the first real test of my diagnosis; was she yin or yang? I told her that she was too yang and I could help her if she could follow my directions. She told me she thought that I was right because her sodium was too high. I guessed she must have read a George Ohsawa book and had some insight into yin and yang. Michio Kushi told me that if I wanted to understand the healing process, I had to follow one client from beginning to end. I thought to myself that Mona would be that person and I told her that she would have access to me 24/7 for one year. Mona took full advantage of that year and felt free to call on me day or night during that period.
Mona always seemed to have a life or death crisis of pain, swelling or difficulty breathing. Some of them may have been life threatening, but I just took each crisis as another day with Mona. Mona followed my advice to the letter. She almost never varied from what I recommended and tried to implement it to the best of her ability. The few occasions when she wandered out on her own and ate something outside of my recommendations, the pain she suffered put an end to that until I eventually gave her the okay.
She was a very social person and always wanted to be part of the tightly knit macrobiotic community that was in Philadelphia at the time. When we went to a restaurant Mona insisted on going along. I told her that there was nothing she could eat there but she didn’t care, she just wanted to be part of the group and enjoy the conversation and celebration. Mona would take a small piece of what everyone ordered and put it on her plate. She never touched a bite of it and was happy as could be just to see other people enjoying. It was indicative of her deep enjoyment of all of life. She knew her time would come when she would be able to enjoy the food without sacrifice to her health. Mona’s health steadily improved as the year was drawing to a close. Little by little, I told Mona she could enjoy certain dishes when she joined our outings. When I finally told her she was well enough to continue on her own, our relationship began to change.
Mona was at my house when Dr. Anthony Satillaro first came. Dr. Satillaro was the president of Methodist hospital and had terminal prostate cancer. I would help him together with my wife Judy, at the time, and most of the extensive Philadlephia macrobiotic community. After he left, she very strongly told me to look after him the same way as I had done for her. I told Mona that I wanted to see if he was really interested first. After a week or so it became apparent that he was serious. He would come to Essene everyday, shop and ask questions. At that point, I followed Mona’s advice and invited the doctor to start eating at my house. It was one of my first experiences with her powerful intuition and our changing roles.
Mona was starting to become my mentor. Of course Mona was always at the house as well. These dinners gave me the opportunity to subtly adjust Satillaro’s dietary recommendations daily and speed his recovery. It also gave me the opportunity to refine and gain a deeper confidence in my own healing ability. Around this time, Mona started to broaden her macrobiotic experience and spend more time studying and working with Michio and Aveline Kushi. She then spent time in Boston with Michio and Aveline and later moved to Miami to run the macrobiotic center there under their direction.
Throughout the years, we kept close contact whether she was in Boston, Miami or India. I do not recall the year she went on a trip to India, but she instantly fell in love and decided to move there. India was Mona’s pay back, her love, and her passion. She wanted to give back to the ancient civilization of India that has given us so much that we draw on in macrobiotic practice and philosophy. She would go on to start farmer’s markets, train chefs and teachers in macrobiotics and re-introduce brown rice. There is a wonderful obituary that I came across that will convey more of her spirit and accomplishments.
Over the years, Mona told me that I was not emphasizing something very important in my teachings. In her words, when you are sick you can take all of the help you need to recover. However, once you recover you need to pay it back ten thousand fold. This is the way of nature and the true spirit of macrobiotics that George Ohsawa taught. Of course I talked about this in my teaching, but I did not emphasize it and drive it home in the way I should have. It was a shortcoming that she constantly drew to my attention. Here is a Youtube video of Mona talking about her experience with macrobiotics.
Mona was a fellow traveler along the macrobiotic path. She’s a true example of transforming poor health into a great, exciting life. She first came to me for dietary advice. Though many recover with a macrobiotic way of eating and lifestyle, many do not continue to follow the spirit of health by giving back according to nature’s model. Mona’s transformation lead her to begin to spread and teach what she had learned. And then she decided to go to India to endlessly perpetuate the bounty she received from macrobiotics in its spiritual homeland.
In later and more recent years, Mona would always tell me it is up to me to change macrobiotics and make it more mainstream. She would scold me in her loving way and tell me that I need to make macrobiotics more spiritual and re-emphasize the aspects of personal and social transformation.
It is now a unique time for macrobiotics and its place in the world. Macrobiotics is a hub that can unify the whole-food plant-based movements and help them reach their true potential. I am sure that Mona will still be at the table with us enjoying our food and wine and discussing and strategizing the best way towards a brighter and happier future for all.
Mona at my 60th birthday party